It’s easy to avoid conversations about sexual assault, and Canadian institutions have been fairly successful in doing just that. Sexual assault is a rampant issue across post-secondary institutions in North America. It doesn’t just happen at large American colleges, despite Canadian post-secondary institutional rhetoric.
Canada is not a liberal utopia where sexual assaults do not occur, and campuses are not safe havens from sexual assaults. Some Canadian institutions can be just as schemey, secretive and propaganda-ridden as their American counterparts.
Consistently, institutions are reporting zero sexual assaults occurring per year, a number that is statistically impossible. The three major post-secondary institutions in Winnipeg reported seven sexual assaults over the course of four years.
In order for the Canadian campus consent culture movement to continue, media needs to hear and respond to the stories of people affected by sexual assault, students need to demand answers from universities and governments need to demand honesty from these institutions.
After the Stand-Alone Policy initiative that students from the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba created, and the Consent Culture forum from the Canadian Federation of Students, there has been silence from the large majority of Canadian students.
This year, aside from pointed posters around campuses decrying poor sexual assault policies at American colleges, Canadian schools have largely been devoid of conversations about consent and sexual assault. A transition to a consent culture cannot come with conversations among a select few. Conversations must extend to all social groups, all faculties, all schools and all genders.
Folks who pride themselves on being part of the conversation need to extend beyond posting stories of Brock Turner on Facebook with an accompanying angry emoji and “how is this still happening? I hate America!” status.
The Facebook posts and shares are not enough. There needs to be space created where victims can feel safe enough to share their stories and a space to critique the policy and reporting standards of Canadian institutions.
Although it would be fun and easy to pretend that zero sexual assaults happen at universities, this is not the reality in the slightest, and to pretend is to silence and ignore victims. To be an ally is not to post articles or links, to be an ally is not to rant about Brock Turner and, most importantly, to be an ally is not to be silent.
Silence is conducive to furthering the cycle of shame, stigma and victim-blaming. Silence is conducive to furthering misconceptions about consent that themselves can result in sexual assault.
Students at Canadian universities need to hold the institutions accountable for supplying accurate sexual assault statistics, for updating policy in order to educate on sexual assault and consent culture and for creating spaces for victims to feel safe, supported and able to tell their stories.
We need to continue with the momentum from last year. We need to push forward with policy change with the new government, and the Progressive Conservatives need to understand the importance and timeliness of this issue.
This is not just for women’s rights activists or radical lefties or women. Rather, as a collective, students need to begin this conversation for the sake of victims who have been silenced for decades. So we should probably talk about it. We should probably talk about the silence of the universities, the silence of the government and the resultant silencing of victims, happening here, 3,000 km north of Brock Turner.
Published in Volume 71, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 6, 2016)